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Camargo Guarnieri

February 1, 1907 - January 13, 1993
born in Tietê, composed during the Modern period
After the era of Heitor Villa-Lobos, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Camargo Guarnieri became the best known Brazilian composer. His music is as imbued with the same quality of "Brazilianness" (Brasilidad) as that of his predecessor, and it is not as polyphonically complex. Camargo Guarnieri is particularly noted for his art songs and dance pieces, many of which have also been successful as popular songs.

Camargo Guarnieri's father was a Sicilian immigrant who gave each of his children a name honoring a great composer. At age ten, Camargo Guarnieri began to fulfill the implied promise of his name by beginning musical studies. In 1923, the family moved to São Paolo, where he took piano lessons; to help support the family and to pay for further musical studies he played in silent theater orchestras and in café bands. He also took classes at the São Paolo Musical and Theater Conservatory, studying composition and conducting.

Camargo Guarnieri's work in the popular music field and his contact with the nationalist Brazilian ethnomusicologist Mario de Andrade influenced him to adopt Brazilian popular and folk influences in much of his music. By the time he was 21 he had written his Brazilian Dance and his Canção Sertaneja, highly popular pieces (the dance is his best-known work outside of Brazil) that put him on the road to renown. In 1927, he was appointed to teach piano at the Conservatory. His reputation was bolstered by the appearance of the early installments in his body of songs, one of the most important by any Latin American composer.

In 1935, the city of São Paulo founded its own Department of Culture. Camargo Guarnieri took over its conducting position and gained special esteem as a choral conductor. In 1938 a government fellowship enabled him to study in Paris. He took counterpoint, fugue, composition, and musical aesthetics courses from composer Charles Koechlin, undertook conducting studies with Franz Rühlmann, and, like so many other twentieth-century composers, attended master classes with Nadia Boulanger. His biographers agree that he returned from Paris with greatly increased confidence in his compositional skills, and he began to write larger-scale works. In 1942, his violin concerto was the first prize of the Philadelphia Free Library Fleischer Music Collection. His small symphonic piece Encantamento became especially popular. Early in the 1940s, his first two symphonies were premiered in Brazil and the U.S. The Symphony No. 2 became known as a "Symphony of the Americas."

In 1945, he was appointed conductor of the São Paolo Symphony Orchestra, and in 1960 he became director of the Conservatory.

Most of his music included a variety Brazilian national elements. One of the main differences between Camargo Guarnieri's outlook and that of Villa-Lobos is that Camargo Guarnieri avoids the sense of the mysterious or exotic that is a frequently a trait of his older compatriot's works. His Symphony No. 3 (1952) was dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the founding of São Paolo. Some critics consider his Symphony No. 6 his finest achievement in the form. Aside from opera and other stage genres, Camargo Guarnieri wrote in virtually every genre of classical music. His violin sonatas are particularly well respected among chamber music players, but the crown jewel of his oeuvre is his series of over 200 songs. These adroitly reflect the main currents of Brazilian music: Portuguese, Afro-Brazilian, and Amerindian. Many of them have been adapted by Brazilian popular musicians.

Guarnieri began to adopt 12-tone elements in his music around 1960, but then took time off from composition to reconsider his aesthetic approach. Finally he returned to his established style, if anything increasing the emphasis on national and popular elements. He died in São Paolo just a few weeks short of his 86th birthday. ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi
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